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Monday, 5 March, 2001, 12:58 GMT
Jailed Briton's hunger strike threat
Peter Bleach and prison officers
Peter Bleach: Serving life sentence for arms drop
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Jailed British arms dealer Peter Bleach has threatened to go on indefinite hunger strike if he is not released by the Indian authorities within two weeks.

Mr Bleach has been in a Calcutta prison for more than five years, serving a life sentence for having dropped a huge consignment of weapons from an aircraft over the Purulia district of West Bengal state in December 1995.

Mr Bleach says that since five Russian pilots convicted along with him on the same charges were released after pressure from Moscow, his continued detention is illegal and discriminatory.

In an open letter to the Indian Government, Peter Bleach alleged that Delhi was biased against him.

Discrimination charge

He said that although British diplomats in India had followed up on UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's request to release him after the Russians were let off, the Indian Government has given no indication they will release him in the near future.

Mr Bleach said in the letter that since he and the Russians had been given similar sentences on the same charges, it was not fair to hold him after the five Russian pilots were let off seven months ago.

The Russian Government exerted huge pressure on India, even going to the extent of threatening to cancel President Vladimir Putin's visit if the pilots were not freed.

Peter Bleach said this was a clear case of discrimination under the provisions of the Indian constitution.

However, he was quick to point out that he had had enough of law courts in India and it was time he did something more concrete.

He said unless he was freed by the Indian authorities, he would on an indefinite hunger strike two weeks from now.

If that happens, observers say it would embarrass the Indian authorities.

But whether Delhi succumbs to that kind of pressure remains to be seen.

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See also:

08 Dec 00 | South Asia
Plea to India over jailed Briton
22 Jul 00 | South Asia
India pardons arms drop crew
24 Apr 00 | South Asia
India arms case reopened
02 Feb 00 | South Asia
Briton gets life in India arms case
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